Finding high-quality child care that aligns with parents’ work schedules can be a significant barrier to successful employment and children’s healthy development. In the District of Columbia, many residents with young children work nontraditional hours, and the supply of licensed child development facilities is likely insufficient to meet that need.
The extent of the need for child care during nontraditional hours in DC and the supply of care facilities to meet that need have largely been unknown. This study investigates that need and provides recommendations for expanding the number of child development facilities with nontraditional hours, including strategies the city can use to better support providers.
Estimating gaps between potential demand and supply of nontraditional-hour child care
Potential demand for nontraditional-hour child care in DC is greater than potential supply. The gap amounts to more than 8,250 child care slots when comparing the total potential slots (10,778) with the number of children who may need nontraditional-hour care (19,050).
The gap between supply and demand is largest in Wards 7 and 8 because of high potential demand compared with moderate to high supply. Parents with school-age children have the greatest need, whereas licensed slots for infants and preschool-age children appear sufficient to meet potential demand.
Weekend care needs are most prominent and warrant further attention. On weekdays, child development facilities do not appear to be opening early enough to meet the needs of parents commuting or reporting to work within the 6:00 hour, and most facilities close by 6:30 p.m. while many children with working parents need care later into the evening.
Providers’ experiences and perspectives on providing care during nontraditional hours
Interviews with local stakeholders and providers underscored the unmet need and offered explanations of the challenges providers face, including these:
- Child care providers offer care during nontraditional hours to meet the needs of families using their programs. Nearly all providers reported offering nontraditional-hour care to meet parental demand, and 38 percent reported offering care to attract more families to their programs.
- Providing nontraditional-hour child care is expensive and often not profitable. To meet ratio requirements, providers need to know when children will be present. Accommodating parents’ erratic or rotating schedules can be logistically challenging and expensive.
- Meeting licensing requirements for late-night and overnight care is difficult, especially for centers. There are extra regulations for nontraditional-hour facilities regarding sleeping arrangements, bathing children, providing meals for children in overnight care, and homework assistance for school-age children.
- Qualified workers are hard to find. Many facilities have difficulty recruiting and retaining qualified staff during weekday daytime hours. Few workers want to work weekends or nontraditional weekday hours.
- Space limitations make nontraditional hours difficult in some locations. Center operators renting space may not have access to it outside the current parameters of their rent, and if the space belongs to a church, for example, it may be used by others on the weekends.
- Nontraditional hours add stress and burden for home-based providers. People running child development homes already work long days, with business hours averaging about 11 hours a day. Extending care hours could strain their physical and mental health and take time away from their families and other responsibilities.
How to expand the supply of nontraditional-hour care to better meet demand
The report provides recommended strategies, such as these:
- Support providers with start-up costs and resources to operate and sustain nontraditional-hour programs.
- Examine the quality standards for nontraditional-hour care to inform any differentiated policies and regulations between traditional-hour and nontraditional-hour care.
- Improve outreach and consumer education to better link parents and providers.
- Stabilize parental demand so providers have more predictable requests for care and can better accommodate families’ needs.
The study also points to areas where further information is needed: documenting parents’ care preferences locally using systematic data collection, and assessing the subsidy application and enrollment process for parents working nontraditional hours, given that many children who need nontraditional-hour care are from low-income families.